The Sri Lanka Series: Mirissa (July-August 2015)

The south coast of Sri Lanka is the one you see featured in most of the staggeringly beautiful photography that pops up on your computer screen when you are googling or pinterest-ing as a means of procrastination at work.

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This is where I spent many of my days reading a book when the sun got too hot.

The crystal, blue waters are teeming with wildlife and the stick fishermen brave the waves for their dinner. When in season (Nov-Feb) the south coast is a tourist mecca of snorkeling, scuba diving, whales, dolphins, never-ending beaches and warm sunshine. It can get crowded and you will likely have to book accommodation in advance as well as organise dinner reservations for larger groups the day before. We left Udawalawe behind and arrived in Mirissa via Matara after another long bus ride and then a 15 minute tuk tuk.

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Rhys made a furry friend. I wanted to take so many stray dogs home with me. They are treated quite poorly in Sri Lanka.

Mirissa beach is breathtaking regardless of the season as restaurants spill out onto the white sandy beaches serving up cocktails and scrumptious seafood BBQs. The beach itself has a rocky headland at one end which contains champagne pools which makes a great swimming spot, while the rest of the stretch consists of easy soft, sandy shorelines.

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One of the many sticks planted in the rocks along the coastline. This was also the champagne pool I swam in.

Mirissa has a fully functioning tourist strip which includes a ‘beach club’ with a pool and lilo beds. We lazed about most days, took long walks up the headland to see the views and ate so much delicious food. We stayed with a local family as a part of an airbnb for our first two nights, but it was a little far (and dark) to walk at night to the main area. So we moved to a very affordable room (1500 rupee per night with ensuite) just behind the beach club with much better access and a cool, laid-back garden to chill in.

During the off season, it is still sunny and warm (it’s always warm in Sri Lanka) but my lazy beach sessions were often interrupted by sudden downpours of rain for around 15 minutes. Everyone did what I was doing: hastily collecting all of my stuff and madly dashing for cover under nearby trees or into the cafes. After the 15 minutes of torrential rain ended, everyone sheepishly heads back out and sets up their towels again. I recommend taking at least a raincoat with you to the beach as I was caught out a few times and when I did have it, I could throw it over everything and keep it all dry.

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The storms roll in quickly and soak everyone only to leave 15 minutes later.

Most of the beach front cafes turn into bars at night and they were happy to let me sit there for hours and use their wifi and lilos even when I only bought a bottle of water. My favourite restaurant was Zephyr. It is affiliated but not exactly the same as its Arugam Bay counterpart. Instead of burgers being their specialty, they served up delicious wraps for lunch and spicy prawn pasta for dinner.

Avoid the Coffee Shack’s coffee. It claims ‘Italian espresso’ but serves hot water which tastes like you licked a battery terminal. No amount of sugar and milk could fix the acidic taste. I watched (with glee) as others around me made the same face I did and then put their coffee down never to be touched again. On the positive side, their pineapple smoothies were sweet and delicious! Each night we ate at many of the beach front restaurants often hand picking our fish fresh from the esky out the front and then having it cooked to perfection or embracing the multi-dish Sri Lankan curries which are still one of my favourite!

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Late afternoon is always the most magical.

See the Tangent Time blog for my whale watching recount.

-rocketandramble

#rocketandramble @rocketandramble

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The Sri Lanka Series: Mirissa (July-August 2015)

Tangent Time: (This post is not for the fainthearted – read at your own risk. Does involve vomit.)

In peak season, Mirissa is famous for its whale and dolphin watching tours. After spending a couple of days lazing about, we felt that we should probably organise an activity of some sort. One night after dinner, we were strolling along the beach back towards our accommodation when we saw a sign that was advertising cheap whale watching (2500 instead of 7000 rupee) for the next day. After a couple of questions to check the particulars and suss out why it was so cheap (apparently last minute seats to help fill the boat and not as many whales as usual), it was decided we would take a chance on it, plus it included breakfast (always gets me over the line). The organisers claimed that even though it was not whale season, they were still averaging 2 whale sightings a trip as well as many dolphins. They even guaranteed a second trip for free if we didn’t see one! What could we possibly have to lose? Apparently my dignity.

We had to meet the organisers at a certain spot the next morning at 6am to be tuk tuked to the mariner. As I dragged my holiday-mode self out of bed and got ready, the weather outside had me seriously second guessing our plans. The clouds outside were dark and angry looking as they unleashed their rainy wrath upon us. Rhys and I debated not going but he ended up convincing me that the weather would clear eventually like it had the other days usually turning on the sunshine by around 10am. We stomped our way through the mud to our meeting point where our guide was 10 minutes late arriving. I saw this as an ominous omen as we debated heading back home to crawl under the covers, when he came running up apologising. The rain slowed as we drove to the mariner and located our boat. Our guide pulled us aside just before we got out of the tuk tuk and whispered to us, asking that we not mention the cheaper price we had paid to the other participants because apparently they had paid full price.

As we boarded, I noticed that the 100 seats were occupied mostly by Asian tourists readying their cameras as they put their life jackets over their heads and clipped in. We headed out of the calm mariner and into the rough and rolling seas. The clouds were still looming over head as the wind whipped around and the ocean rocked the boat. After almost an hour of heading directly out to sea followed by a couple of other whale watching boats, the non-seafaring folk (myself included) began to revolt against the rolling motion and the seasickness began.

I am not usually a queasy person, but this trip got me too. It started towards the front as a couple of kids and their dad dry wretched, trying to throw up their non -xistent breakfast. The tour operators handed out black plastic bags as quickly as they could to anyone who looked mildly ill. The sounds of more people chucking their guts up started to take effect  on me and eventually I succumbed. I tried standing up, I tried sitting down, I tried looking out to the horizon that was rolling just as much as our boat was. It was windy, raining on and off and the noise of plastic bags flapping and heaving stomachs filled the air. It had been almost two hours of boating without even seeing a single fin or tail. Plus, many of the passengers were staring at the ground trying not to think about how terrible they felt.

At this point, I almost didn’t care if I never saw a whale ever again as passengers all around us were sick and Rhys tried to help me, looking on with pity as I sat there spitting bile repeatedly into my plastic bag. Finally, a blue whale was spotted as the tourists who were still able to look up pulled out their cameras trying to capture a glimpse. The captain’s helpers rushed to the side of the boat and pointed furiously at the spot where the whale had just breached (very slightly) out of the water. Now in all honesty, yes, I did most definitely see a whale a couple of times. It was a one second glance of a hump, then a tail and then that was it. I wasn’t well enough to even think about getting my camera out nor did I think the scene before me was really picture worthy as I clutched my bag of spew. There were a few oohs and aaahs as the whale swam along breaking the water every 10  minutes or so as we tried to keep up. After 30 minutes of following the whale, our tour guides started asking if anyone hadn’t seen the whale, ensuring that no one asked for their money back. Even if I hadn’t seen the whale, you could not have paid me enough to do the trip a second time.

After it had been agreed, that yes indeed EVERYONE had seen a whale, the boat turned around and headed back to land as the excitement of the whale sighting started to wear off and everyone realised that we had another 2 hours of rocking boat time before we hit dry land.   The crew started to hand out the breakfast boxes to those with iron stomachs who had been able to resist the motion sickness paired with the retching sounds that continued around them. I took my box but gave it to Rhys who happily chowed down on the extra tuna sandwich, banana and juice popper. I couldn’t even look at the sandwich without wanting to throw up a little more. Finally, the boat docked and I could not get off fast enough. Our tuk tuk driver was waiting to take us back to our accommodation but it was still hours before I could even think about eating.

The boat and staff were actually excellent, and the experience itself is one I won’t forget, but not because of the whales.

-rocketandramble

#rocketandramble @rocketandramble